In the digital community, with the emergence in recent years of lots of digital product teams, we can sometimes be guilty of losing sight of the fact that nearly all of these ‘digital products’ are part of broader service offerings.

Katie Wishlade
Katie Wishlade
18th July 2019

In fact, in 2017, services accounted for 79% of the UK economy. If you think about it, all of us from the moment we wake up in the morning rely on services, for everything. Your water, the gas to heat it, the online bills to pay for it, the bank that looks after your money and the companies which handle those bill payments. To a user, a service is simple. It’s something that helps them to do something - like learning to drive, watching Game of Thrones or going on holiday. But from the inside, it is not so simple. From our experience, here are four principles for successful service design.

Work across multiple touchpoints

So firstly one of the key premises behind service design is that it needs to work across all touchpoints. And by touchpoint we mean any interaction that a customer has with your brand, whether it be via your website, app, person to person or a form of communication. However, In order to provide a joined-up experience, it’s critical that an organisation’s channels are connected and integrated.

Imagine a call centre agent, that is up to speed with last week’s online live chat conversations and that can immediately jump in and help without you explaining the situation. Or a shop assistant, that can there and then, order your items online if they are not available in-store.

So consider…

  • Does a customer have to provide the same info multiple times?
  • Is data and inference carried seamlessly from one part of the service to another?
  • Does the service look and feel like one service throughout - regardless of the channel it is delivered through?

Meet everyone’s needs

Secondly, all these touchpoints need to meet everyone’s needs - and by everyone that we mean everyone that plays a role in that service whether that be customers or employees.

I think we’d all agree that the services and products need to address a real need and the success of any customer engagement is determined by the quality of its customer experience. The role of the organisation is, however, a critical its role is to support the service effectively, with its shape and structure built and adapted to suit.

However, particularly in an established organisation, with large amounts of legacy, it’s all too easy for the organisation and its internal processes to be overlooked, with new services built on top of slightly dysfunctional operations. However, when backstage organisational problems exist, they have frontstage consequences: poor service, customer frustration, and inconsistent channels. Streamlining backstage processes is critical. It improves the employees’ experience, which, in turn, allows them to create a better user experience.

So consider…

  • Does the service support and balance the demands of all user groups?
  • Does the employee experience enable them to support the service and its customer’s needs in the best way possible?
  • Is the organisation’s shape and structure built to suit the needs of the service?
Front stage back stage diagram of service design
All these touchpoints need to be meet everyone’s needs. And by that we mean everyone that plays a role in that service.

Build a lasting relationship

Thirdly once you have customers on the service you need to build a lasting relationship with them, shifting to focus on retention rather than pure acquisition.

There are a number of different tactics that can be used to build these emotional connections:

  • Provide graceful entry and exits: Simply providing flexible, natural entry and exit points to and from the service, enabling users to come back and finish things or update information. For example, when booking a holiday, you don’t need everyone’s passport details to book, you can go back and add the additional passport details at a later date.
  • Encourage interaction: Encourage users to engage with your service and tailor it for their needs. Simple things like building you regular lists in a grocery site or entering your home or work address in Google Maps.
  • Learn, enhance and tailor: Learning about the user usage habits and use this knowledge to enhance their experience. Strava, for example, uses your historical data to show performance trends over time, if you left the service you’d lose all of this data on previous rides and runs.

On a more strategic level, discount-based loyalty schemes have been around for decades. However, organisations are starting to adapt the model to reward the right type of behaviour. Last year, Sainsbury’s shelled out £60m to take full ownership of the Nectar reward scheme and have started to redesign it to give customers points based not just on how much they spend, but also how frequently they shop and how long they have been a customer.

So consider…

  • Can a user come back and update information?
  • Can a customer personalise the service and tailor the experience to their needs?
  • Can the service learn about the user and use this information to enhance the experience?
  • Can the service foster more of an emotional connection with the customer?
  • Can the service consider rewarding loyalty?
Strava dashboard - building loyalty in digital service design
Strava uses your historical data to show performance trends overtime

Aid speedy recovery.

Finally, it is important to consider all scenarios when designing, not only the ideal. One of the key ideas behind service design is that special (abnormal) events are treated as common events. NatWest, for example, have designed a service that allows customers to get money out of a machine even if they have left their wallet at home or if you report a fault with your broadband to BT, they will send you a Mini Hub at no extra cost to use until your fault is fixed. The Mini Hub is also designed to fit through your letterbox so you also don’t need to wait in for it.

So consider…

  • Do the customer know what they should do next if they were unable to complete a task?
  • Does the customer know what to do if there is some sort of disruption or special event?
  • What abnormal scenarios might affect your service, and how might you deal with them?

So these are four key principles, which can be used as both an evaluative tool and a generative tool when thinking about service design. Obviously using these heuristics to identify problems and opportunities is only the first step. Making changes is the next step and this can involve joining up technologies, aligning KPIs, metrics and accountabilities, and forming alliances between departments. It can take a lot of persistence and above all political will. But if you haven’t identified where the problems or opportunities lie, you can’t fix them. So important to take this first step.